The Illness Lesson
A mysterious flock of red birds has descended over Birch Hill. Recently reinvented, it is now home to an elite and progressive school designed to shape the minds of young women. But Eliza Bell – the most inscrutable and defiant of the students – has been overwhelmed by an inexplicable illness.One by one, the other girls begin to experience the same peculiar symptoms: rashes, fits, headaches, verbal tics, night wanderings. Soon Caroline – the only woman teaching – begins to suffer too. She tries desperately to hide her symptoms but, with the birds behaving strangely and the girls’ condition worsening, the powers-that-be turn to a sinister physician with grave and dubious methods.Caroline alone can speak on behalf of the students, but only if she summons the confidence to question everything she’s ever learnt. Does she have the strength to confront the all-male, all-knowing authorities of her world and protect the young women in her care?Distinctive, haunting, irresistible, The Illness Lesson is an intensely vivid debut about women's minds and bodies, and the time-honoured tradition of doubting both.

The Illness Lesson Details

TitleThe Illness Lesson
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseFeb 6th, 2020
PublisherDoubleday
ISBN-139780857526311
Rating
GenreHistorical, Historical Fiction, Fiction

The Illness Lesson Review

  • Eliza
    January 1, 1970
    As this book is not coming out for quite some time, I won’t reveal much about the plot or characters for those of you who are anticipating this novels release in February, 2020! Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this before its publication.Now, as the 2-star rating on Goodreads dictates, this book was “OK.”The Illness Lesson is definitely an odd read, that I will say. I won’t uncover more on that, as I feel half of its oddness is what makes the book what it is. As this book is not coming out for quite some time, I won’t reveal much about the plot or characters for those of you who are anticipating this novels release in February, 2020! Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this before its publication.Now, as the 2-star rating on Goodreads dictates, this book was “OK.”The Illness Lesson is definitely an odd read, that I will say. I won’t uncover more on that, as I feel half of its oddness is what makes the book what it is. That said, the contents of the novel and its writing feels very victorian and lyrically-styled, which I enjoyed; however, that’s where my enjoyment stops. The characters and plot, on the other hand, felt slow and predictable. Really, it isn’t so much the predictable/obvious plot that deterred me, so much as the characters which felt to me as though they had little-to-no personality. Perhaps that’s how I personally read the novel, but no matter how much I tried, I couldn't get any “feeling” from the characters. And being that I care instrumentally about the connection I form between myself and the characters within a novel, I greatly missed that bond.I understand that others will probably form an attachment to these characters and wonder where I am coming from, and I hope you do! But for me, Caroline was the only one I felt any sliver of understanding, and even that was rather scant. Though, I did agree with her decision, in the end. I would have done the same as her — meaning the end was satisfactory and almost had me bump the rating to a 3-star rating, but it misses the rating by a mark.
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  • Talli
    January 1, 1970
    The Illness Lesson is a quiet, unassuming lesson on women and how society shapes and perceives them. The prose was beautiful and vivid, evoking imagery and universal themes. It’s a quick read, drawing you into a specific world both entirely grounded in our reality but also seemingly so far away from the world we live in. Set in the 19th century, this book asks the question of what a progressive woman might look like in that time and what roadblocks she might encounter. While not at the center of The Illness Lesson is a quiet, unassuming lesson on women and how society shapes and perceives them. The prose was beautiful and vivid, evoking imagery and universal themes. It’s a quick read, drawing you into a specific world both entirely grounded in our reality but also seemingly so far away from the world we live in. Set in the 19th century, this book asks the question of what a progressive woman might look like in that time and what roadblocks she might encounter. While not at the center of this story, this question lurks on the edges. Challenging the beliefs and actions of even the more progressive male and female characters, the author carves a very particular path and message specific to our heroine, Caroline. Like some of the most evocative female-centric stories, the core of The Illness Lesson explores the connection between women, both socially and generationally. Can we inherit trauma? Can it spread sociologically? What is the connection between body and mind and can we trust either? The Illness Lesson endeavors to ask these questions, even if there is no clear answer. I highly recommend giving it a read. Thematically it reminded me of the film Midsommar, but there are also nods to classic gothic literature. If you want to be encompassed by a novel, this is a great choice.
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  • Penny (Literary Hoarders)
    January 1, 1970
    This cover!! Wow!
  • Csimplot Simplot
    January 1, 1970
    Excellent book!!!
  • Jenny
    January 1, 1970
    “We were, I think, making girls for a world that does not exist.”I found this book to be powerful and moving, despite its flaws. A fictionalized Amos Bronson Alcott figure, as selfish and inept as the real one, opens a school for girls with his daughter in Reconstruction America. Strange and unsettling things happen to the girls. Things that are still happening 150 years later. My main criticism of this book is that the girls are thinly-drawn and mere passengers in their own narrative.. An “We were, I think, making girls for a world that does not exist.”I found this book to be powerful and moving, despite its flaws. A fictionalized Amos Bronson Alcott figure, as selfish and inept as the real one, opens a school for girls with his daughter in Reconstruction America. Strange and unsettling things happen to the girls. Things that are still happening 150 years later. My main criticism of this book is that the girls are thinly-drawn and mere passengers in their own narrative.. An argument can be made that this really underscores the theme of the book, but readers may be alienated by this choice. Overall, I think it works when the book is read from a critical-thinking, feminist perspective as opposed to reading a “story for the sake of story”. I’m anxious to see what Clare Beams does next. Received from the publisher and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Kendra
    January 1, 1970
    With the shadows and ghosts of the Alcotts and Louisa May Alcott's Little Women in particular populating its pages, this novel captures a brief span in a young woman's life during which her father, having been part of a failed self-sufficient utopia, decides to open a school. Recruiting a handful of girls for an experimental education, Caroline, her father Samuel, and teacher David embark on an adventure that turns sour as David's pious wife arrives, spoiling Caroline's hopes for a romance with With the shadows and ghosts of the Alcotts and Louisa May Alcott's Little Women in particular populating its pages, this novel captures a brief span in a young woman's life during which her father, having been part of a failed self-sufficient utopia, decides to open a school. Recruiting a handful of girls for an experimental education, Caroline, her father Samuel, and teacher David embark on an adventure that turns sour as David's pious wife arrives, spoiling Caroline's hopes for a romance with David; and as one of the students, the daughter of Caroline's long-deceased mother's lover--begins to dictate the social order of the pupils. Finally, having fallen in to a mass hysteria, the girls are treated by one of Samuel's former utopian colleagues, a doctor who decides that the students all just need to release their tension through "paroxysms"--or orgasms, manually stimulated by the doctor. In the end, Caroline decides that this is wrong, and leaves her father for city life. The book is well-written and often beautiful and evocative, but the plot was too predictable for me, and the remove with which the author's manner prose separates the reader and characters is too distant, and the characters too thin, for me to have gotten very invested in the outcome.
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  • Heather Fineisen
    January 1, 1970
    A small group of girls at a newly formed school come down with symptoms of an unknown origin. Examines females interacting with one another and the history of hysteria. This is a slow paced novel which raises the ethics of medical molestation and its effect on young women. The characters are well drawn although not readily likable. The subject matter is uncomfortable. Then there are the birds...a solid read.Copy provided by the Publisher and NetGalley
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  • Nicki Markus
    January 1, 1970
    The Illness Lesson was a captivating read. The prose was a delight, and its style added to the sense of historical period. The story posed many questions, such as the connection between body and mind and the rights of women over their own bodies. Meanwhile, the arrival of the birds and the part they played created an interesting metaphor. I found myself caught up in the world and the action, always eager to turn the page to see how things would progress. Overall this was both a gripping and a The Illness Lesson was a captivating read. The prose was a delight, and its style added to the sense of historical period. The story posed many questions, such as the connection between body and mind and the rights of women over their own bodies. Meanwhile, the arrival of the birds and the part they played created an interesting metaphor. I found myself caught up in the world and the action, always eager to turn the page to see how things would progress. Overall this was both a gripping and a thought-provoking read and definitely a book that will stay in my mind for a long time. A solid 4.5 stars.I received this book as a free eBook ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Amy
    January 1, 1970
    The Illness Lesson tries to be a lot of things – a book about women and the ways we have been suppressed by men; a story about school, and how women are often discouraged from thinking and questioning; a look at hysteria and one of the bizarre treatments men employed; an exploration of the connection between body and mind and how the fear of inheriting a disease can alter perceptions as well as personalities; a comment on education; an exploration of relationships between parents and children The Illness Lesson tries to be a lot of things – a book about women and the ways we have been suppressed by men; a story about school, and how women are often discouraged from thinking and questioning; a look at hysteria and one of the bizarre treatments men employed; an exploration of the connection between body and mind and how the fear of inheriting a disease can alter perceptions as well as personalities; a comment on education; an exploration of relationships between parents and children and ones between consenting adults; and, oddly, birds. Unfortunately, none of these things are explored very fully, the characters are left only half formed, the sometimes beautiful writing is lost in a book that tries to do too much, and the birds remain an odd construct which tries to be mystical and intriguing but ends up being mostly a distraction. There was potential here, and the prose style held me enough to finish the book, but I was left feeling disappointed at the lack of depth or intensity this story needed.
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  • Sarah-Hope
    January 1, 1970
    The Illness Lesson is an odd duck of a book, which I mean as an observation, not a criticism. In terms of genre, I would label it historical fiction, but it also feels strikingly contemporary in ways that don't undermine the historical setting. The Illness Lesson does many things at once, most of them quite well: it explores female identity in a world dominated by men and the limitations placed on even the lives of women deemed exceptional; it opens up the transcendentalist movement in ways that The Illness Lesson is an odd duck of a book, which I mean as an observation, not a criticism. In terms of genre, I would label it historical fiction, but it also feels strikingly contemporary in ways that don't undermine the historical setting. The Illness Lesson does many things at once, most of them quite well: it explores female identity in a world dominated by men and the limitations placed on even the lives of women deemed exceptional; it opens up the transcendentalist movement in ways that embrace both its aspirations and failings; it wrestles with the question of whether education should prepare individuals for their likely social roles or should be aspirational; it illustrates the consequences of male medical "knowledge" that does not clearly recognize and value the female lives over which it holds sway. And The Illness Lesson manages all this without feeling heavy handed.On one level, the plot is fairly straightforward. An aging figure from the transcendentalist movement decides that he, his daughter Caroline, and a male acolyte will open a school for girls that will take women's intelligence as seriously as men's. The first class is small, but enthusiastic. The girls ask questions, explore, and develop their own lives of the mind. Then, the girls become ill with a range of symptoms: fainting, seizures, rashes, stuttering, and general debilitation. The school's founder, Caroline's father, invites in a former member of his transcendentalist circle to "treat" them.While the book is presented in third person, the perspective most clearly represented is Caroline's. She is a product of an earlier version of the education the girls are now receiving, she shares some of their symptoms, and, like them, she is underestimated by the men enacting their own vision of what female identity should be. Caroline's profound discomfort becomes the reader's as well, making this book an emotionally difficult read at times, but also making it deeply compelling.I received a free electronic review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. The opinions are my own.
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  • Ginger Pollard
    January 1, 1970
    This book starts out good, but it gets very odd. It goes in so many different directions, it made me dizzy! Truth! This is one of those books that people will love completely or really dislike. I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley. Thank you,Netgalley.All opinions are my own.
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  • Meredith
    January 1, 1970
    I won this book in a giveaway, but that has not influenced my review in any way.I was very excited to receive this book. The premise seemed unique and intriguing. The way this book is written and the symbolism used throughout makes this one of the more unique books I've read this year. I really enjoy a story that doesn't give everything to the reader and requires a bit of thought and problem solving. Illness Lessons had me thinking about it even when I wasn't actively reading it. That's a sign I won this book in a giveaway, but that has not influenced my review in any way.I was very excited to receive this book. The premise seemed unique and intriguing. The way this book is written and the symbolism used throughout makes this one of the more unique books I've read this year. I really enjoy a story that doesn't give everything to the reader and requires a bit of thought and problem solving. Illness Lessons had me thinking about it even when I wasn't actively reading it. That's a sign of something great! This book will stick with me for a long time.
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  • Lucy
    January 1, 1970
    A strange and novel read which has gripped me tightly.Caroline Hood lives with her father Samuel, a philosopher and essayist, who decides to set up a school for young ladies – soon the Trilling Heart school is open with a small number of live-in scholars. Most notable among them Eliza Pearson Bell, daughter of Miles Pearson, one time associate of Samuel Bell, but now much maligned by him.The trilling hearts of the school’s name are rare birds, not seen for decades, but currently populating the A strange and novel read which has gripped me tightly.Caroline Hood lives with her father Samuel, a philosopher and essayist, who decides to set up a school for young ladies – soon the Trilling Heart school is open with a small number of live-in scholars. Most notable among them Eliza Pearson Bell, daughter of Miles Pearson, one time associate of Samuel Bell, but now much maligned by him.The trilling hearts of the school’s name are rare birds, not seen for decades, but currently populating the local area. They have stunning red feathers and build incredibly structured nests; they’re sometimes described as beautiful, but just as often as creepy.Somehow the girls at the school including Caroline seem linked to the birds, the birds’ activity seems to capture the girls’ behaviour and imagination. Before long the girls are exhibiting physical symptoms – rashes, fainting, twitching – is this linked to the birds? Is it contagious? Is it just normal everyday life? A doctor is brought in who diagnoses ‘hysteria’ – the book becomes very uncomfortable at this point but reading her acknowledgements, Clare Beams has clearly done much research into this subject. If only the world had #MeToo at that point, and women were allowed to be stronger.A highly unique read, very highly recommended.
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  • Jay bookworm
    January 1, 1970
    Thanks to DoubleDay and Goodreads for the advance galley copy of the book. Atmospheric is the best description I can think of for this tale about the launching of a girls school in the late 1800s. It is told from the perspective of Caroline, the daughter of philosopher turned schoolmaster, Samuel Hood. Caroline has spent her life without her mother, who died when she was very young, trying to look out for her father. His dream is to launch this school which would teach girls in much the same way Thanks to DoubleDay and Goodreads for the advance galley copy of the book. Atmospheric is the best description I can think of for this tale about the launching of a girls school in the late 1800s. It is told from the perspective of Caroline, the daughter of philosopher turned schoolmaster, Samuel Hood. Caroline has spent her life without her mother, who died when she was very young, trying to look out for her father. His dream is to launch this school which would teach girls in much the same way boys are taught vs. only educating them to be wives and mothers. The premise is sound and at the time, quite ambitious. He has help from Caroline and another teacher, David, who moves to the farm to help launch the school. Once they are underway, the girls start exhibiting troubling symptoms. The story evolves as the teachers try to help the girls and save the school. The narrative unfolds with a “something is around the corner” feeling of creepiness and hints of supernatural. I enjoyed the story and it was great timing for the scary season. If you are looking for a vividly written and engrossing tale, this is a good one. There’s a tension between Caroline and David and the memory of her mother is ever present. The story is multi-faceted, but not so overly complicated to lose sight of Caroline’s journey.
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  • Laura Jay
    January 1, 1970
    I quickly identified the Illness Lesson as a book that would deal with similar issues girls and women continue to face in modern times. I am definitely on board with that. In the beginning, I felt like the story was moving along quite well. But at some point, I noticed the prose and sentence construction began to become a bit more complicated. I found myself wondering if some less advanced readers would become confused and give up on the book.My hope is that the Illness Lesson will encourage I quickly identified the Illness Lesson as a book that would deal with similar issues girls and women continue to face in modern times. I am definitely on board with that. In the beginning, I felt like the story was moving along quite well. But at some point, I noticed the prose and sentence construction began to become a bit more complicated. I found myself wondering if some less advanced readers would become confused and give up on the book.My hope is that the Illness Lesson will encourage more writers to write stories covering similar important issues. As women (and men), we want to be sure that everyone hears and understands as much as possible concerning this serious and criminal subject matter. The number of stars I gave this book is in appreciation for a story brave enough to tackle an important women’s issue. The story made me angry. Maybe it might make you angry too. I suppose we need to get angry in order to stop the madness.I had a lot to say about The Illness Lesson - To read my full book review go to my blog.
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  • Cathe Olson
    January 1, 1970
    Definitely an odd book that seemed to go in several different directions--It starts with a man and his daughter starting a school to educate women--not just in the art of being a wife but actually educating them like a "man." But then there is a big focus on the daughter of a man the father hates and how to reign her in. But then the focus changes to the mysterious illness that befalls the females. And then there's the whole female "hysteria" thing and the bizarre treatment. And onto an abrupt Definitely an odd book that seemed to go in several different directions--It starts with a man and his daughter starting a school to educate women--not just in the art of being a wife but actually educating them like a "man." But then there is a big focus on the daughter of a man the father hates and how to reign her in. But then the focus changes to the mysterious illness that befalls the females. And then there's the whole female "hysteria" thing and the bizarre treatment. And onto an abrupt ending. The author is definitely trying to make a point about how females are treated as children and don't need to be told what they need by men. Odd but definitely readable book. 3.5 stars
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  • Madeleine
    January 1, 1970
    Of the ten or so books I’ve read this year I would only recommend two, and this is one of them. I thought it was beautifully written and has some good themes that the writer quite cleverly referred to throughout the story. There was a good level of suspense, but my main criticism is that at times I thought this could have been heightened. But I did really enjoy reading it and how Caroline developed by the end, slightly disturbing but also empowering.
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  • Tina
    January 1, 1970
    It was an odd tale but ok
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